Saturday, July 13, 2013

The One and Only

Single children talk about the pros and cons of being one

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photo: A three-member family; Chitra Mohan 

When Malini Menon was five years old, she accompanied her Delhi-based parents, along with a group of relatives, on her first visit to the Guruvayur temple in Kerala. She was the only child among all of them. It was very crowded. “In the melee, I was supposed to be holding on to my mom's saree, but, somehow, I ended up catching the pallu of another lady,” she says. “When I looked up, I realised that it was not my mum.”

Malini experienced a moment of sheer terror. There was nobody around whom she knew. She ran here and there searching for her family. Finally, her mother spotted her, caught her hand, and said, “If there had been another child, it would not have been such a big issue.”

A smiling Malini says, “My mother said this half in anger and half in jest, but it remained in my mind forever. I guess, when you are an only child, parents tend to become over-possessive.”

As a result, the child gets the undivided attention of the parents. “You get your way all the time,” says Malini. “You don't need to make an adjustment of any sort with anybody.”

The Bangalore-based B. Tech student Melvin Mathew agrees. “You receive the 100 per cent love and affection of your parents,” he says. “It never goes down. It is always there.”

Chitra Mohan, 27, also received a lot of care and affection from her parents. Since her mother was the eldest Chitra was the first child in the clan. Till her childhood ended, no relative had a boy or girl. 

“I got the full love of my grandparents on both sides,” she says. “Whatever I asked for, I got, although I did not ask for much. I was a pampered child. I still think I am pampered by my mother, even though I am married and have two children.”

Sanjana Iyer, 18, an upcoming tennis player, also had good experiences. “My parents are my best friends,” she says. “I can share all my thoughts with them.”

Despite the pluses, very few have been able to avoid the feeling of loneliness that beset them throughout their childhood. “When I was in school, I would see my friend's brother dropping her to school and think to myself, ‘I don't have anybody to drop me,’” says Chitra. “I told my mother I wanted a sibling, but she said she only wanted one child, so that she can give her full care to me.”

Chitra’s mother was working as a teacher in Christ Nagar school at Thiruvananthapuram, while her father lived in Kuwait and came home for two months every year.

Interestingly, outsiders could not notice Chitra’s distress. When cousins and friends came to know that she was an only child, they would say how lucky Chitra was, since she did not have to share anything with anybody. “But I felt the opposite,” says Chitra.

Malini also felt lonely. There were times when she would feel the absence of a brother or sister and would tell her parents that it would have been nice if there was somebody a little closer to her age. But her parents did not respond to her request. “Later they told me that they had the resources to bring up one child only,” says Malini. “In fact, when there are too many children and not enough money, then it is not all that great. I have seen many dysfunctional families.”

Like Malini, Sanjana also wanted a companion. Her father worked in Dubai and when she was at home her mother would be busy in the kitchen. “She would not have the time to talk to me,” says Sanjana. “I would be in front of the TV all the time.”

In fact, so keen was Sanjana for a sibling, that when she was eight years old, she had heard that if a woman had green mangoes, she would get pregnant. So she made her mother eat a lot of green mangoes. “How naïve I was,” she says, with a smile. 
In a rare exception, Melvin had no such problems. “My parents were my friends,” he says. “They were my brothers and sisters. That is why I never felt lonely. My father would play often with me, and my mother offered emotional support.”

But today, he has a mixed reaction. “When I see families with two children, and see them fight over small things, I think, ‘Thank God I am a single child, and did not need to fight over stuff,’” he says. “But when they did something for each other I have felt that I could have had a similar experience, if I had a sibling.”

At 20, Melvin has many experiences that he cannot tell his parents. “There are events that I cannot even share with my friends, but could have done so with a brother or sister,” he says. “Now I have to keep it within myself.”

Meanwhile, there is an oft-repeated belief that single children tend to be self-centred and selfish. Agrees Melvin: “I have a tendency to think about myself more than the others. I don't have a sharing attitude. That is one of the drawbacks of being a single child. I did not learn how to share.”

Chitra also accepts that single children do become selfish. “After marriage, if my mother showed more support to my husband, Ajith, than to me, I would immediately feel bad about it,” she says. “I felt she should always support me, because, for so long, I have been the centre of attention. It indicates a lack of maturity on my part.”

Sanjana is also self-obsessed. “I don't know how to share things, since I was alone most of the time,” she says. “If I am playing computer games, my neighbour, a girl, might come and want to play. But I might not allow her to do so. I won't say no directly. I will say, 'A little later, a little later', till the girl leaves.”

On the other hand, Malini is not entirely certain about single children being selfish. “It all depends on the upbringing,” she says. “There are plenty of people on earth who have siblings and yet they are self-centred and selfish.”

And so life goes on for the single children. Some, like Chitra, are ensuring that the next generation does not go through the same problems. “Soon after my marriage, I told my husband that I wanted two children,” says Chitra. “I don't want my children to go through my experiences.” Her sons – Aditya Mohan, 9, and Aarush, 7 – are closer in age, so they can be companions to each other.

Melvin wants to be more active. “I am making an effort to be friendly with people,” he says. “But it does not come naturally. I have to push myself to become social.”

(Some names have been changed) 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

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